Alternative Titles/Edition History:
Critical Hit (2014)
Country of Origin:
10 scenarios, 4 pages of rules, 4 11" x 16" heavy paper/light cardstock untrimmed geoboards (C, D, E, F), 368 die-cut counters
Have you ever seen or heard something that so boggled your mind that you reacted by trying to say several things at once, with all of those things getting mixed up between your mind and your mouth to the point that you were rendered speechless? If so, you may have experienced something similar to the reaction that Desperation Morale had when learning of Across the Aller. This opening paragraph is about the fifth attempt to start writing on this subject. When the mind boggles, the words stop flowing.
Across the Aller I (AA1) is one-half of a new Critical Hit product, the other half being sold separately as Across the Aller II, so that players will buy both. But that is only the beginning of what it is. It is also a bizarre attempt by Critical Hit to create a new, unauthorized quasi-version of a highly-respected, long-out-of-print product by another company, a product to which Critical Hit does not own the intellectual property rights.
Almost 20 years ago, ASL third party publisher Kinetic Energy released the second issue of its ASL magazine Time on Target (“The Journal of ASL Esoterica”). Dubbed “April 1945: At the Sharp End,” this themed magazine presented 20 new ASL scenarios depicting late-war combat between British forces and a German Marine division in the waning weeks of the Second World War in Europe. The scenarios were based primarily on action descriptions in a recently-published book on the subject, No Triumphant Procession, by John Russell. The product met with a very positive reception, as the subject matter was interesting and Kinetic Energy’s production values were top-notch for the mid-1990s. The magazine even came with a small number of very attractive die-cut counters.
Kinetic Energy lasted until the end of the 1990s, but its founder, Mark Neukom, soured on ASL and dropped out of the hobby with some bitterness. To this day, 15 years later, Neukom has never granted permission for any of his designs to be reprinted.
But this is not the sort of petty obstacle that would stop Critical Hit. In 2014, Critical Hit announced that it would be doing what would essentially be a new version of the scenarios in Time on Target #2, dubbing the product a “tribute” to the original product:
“CH’s tribute to TOT 2 is aimed at giving you everything the original did … and more. More counters (hundreds and hundreds more, in color), more geo boards (compared to: 0), color scenarios, and a color cardstock folder-style wrap. New color military art throughout. Kreigsmarine-badged [sic] MMCs. ‘German’ colored Waffen SS (not black). New AFVs and Guns. New aircraft. New terrain. The tribute comes in the way of a scenario-for-scenario history, same originating book (“No Triumphant Return”). Same situations.”
When this announcement appeared, Desperation Morale contacted Critical Hit and asked its head, Ray Tapio, if Mark Neukom had given permission to Critical Hit to do a new version of Time on Target #2. Tapio responded:
“Thanks for your note. As per our copyright counsel, permission is not an issue for historical recreations. We are covering the battles in a tribute to the book covered by the former publisher, “No Triumphant Procession”, as TOT2 did — just as we recreate battles already covered by previous modules, scenarios, etc. Everything is new, and original, including historical summaries, counters, military art, and boards. We are free to reference competitors, predecessors in our copy.”
Desperation Morale asked Ray Tapio whether or not there was a difference between a “tribute to the book,” as he alleged in his e-mail, versus a “tribute to TOT 2,” as he described it in his actual marketing copy. Tapio responded “I’ll have to give that one some thought,” then changed the text on one of Critical Hit’s website to read “CH’s tribute to the same battles covered by TOT 2” and added “THIS IS AN ALL NEW PRODUCT AND IS NOT A REPRINT OF TOT 2.” However, the text on Critical Hit’s other website remained unchanged.
The rules of Across the Aller similarly describe the product as “an alternate take on the same battles” of Time on Target #2, “with a little ‘addition by subtraction,'” meaning that they reduced the lengthy SSRs. The rules refer to Time on Target/Kinetic Energy as “our predecessors.”
How Across the Aller could be an “all new product” and at the same time a “scenario-for-scenario” recreation is not exactly clear. It is not as if Critical Hit bought the book No Triumphant Procession and designed a bunch of scenarios based on the text of that book. Rather, Critical Hit self-confessedly did new versions of the exact scenarios designed by Kinetic Energy. If would be like someone re-writing the novel Gone with the Wind, then describing it as an “all new product.” Well, no.
This is not the first time Critical Hit has done something like this, unfortunately. Earlier in 2014, Critical Hit paid similar “tribute” to another third party scenario pack, Soldiers of the Negus, by recreating it without permission as Lion of Judah. It was not a counterfeit version nor an exact duplicate, but it was still clearly and patently a rip-off of the original.
With the publication of Across the Aller I and II, however, what was hitherto a single egregious incident has now become a trend.
Is Critical Hit really so desperate that they have to plunder the intellectual property of other designers and publishers in such a fashion? For some years, Critical Hit has had a business model based on constant recycling, renaming, and reselling its own previously published products (because it can’t release enough new products each year to pay all the bills). Now, however, it seems that Critical Hit is extending this to old ASL products created by others. This should be a wake-up call for any ASLer who has ever designed a scenario or published an ASL product. Might they be the next to experience a Critical Hit “tribute”?
Has Critical Hit safely skirted copyright laws? Desperation Morale’s corporate counsel, Barry Zuckerkorn, has not yet been released from house arrest, so we cannot venture an opinion. But one thing is clear: regardless of legal issues, Critical Hit has clearly crossed a moral and ethical Rubicon here and every ASLer should be aware of this fact. Critical Hit was wrong to do this. ASLers should not support such egregious actions.
Having explained the background necessary to understand this product, let’s move on to the specifics of the product itself. Across the Aller I contains 4 pages of rules, loose-leaf and hole-punched for inclusion in three-ringed binders. The rules do double-duty for both Across the Aller I and Across the Aller II. They are printed in full color and are attractive.
The rules include provisions for:
- German Marine units. Essentially, the German Marines in AA1 are simplified but very similar to the Marines as presented in Time on Target #2. As in TOT2, they are represented by 5-4-8 counters (that ELR to 4-4-7 and 4-3-6 squads); as in TOT2, they add +1 when firing a PsK or PF. They don’t have assault fire as in TOT2, though.
- Hungarian troops. The Hungarian troops are basically treated the same way as in TOT2. However, Critical Hit decided to provide counters for them in German colors. This was probably a bad idea, as it simply adds confusion, especially for the 4-4-7 squads, which could easily be conflated with the 4-4-7 German 2nd line squads also provided.
- Gammon Bombs. Basically a British SW that can be used as either a DC or an ATMM. Not included in TOT2.
- Bayonet Charges. A revised version of the TOT2 Bayonet Charges rule.
- Marching Fire. A revised version of the TOT2 Marching Fire rule.
- Chapter H-style notes. Information for new British and German guns and vehicles mostly derived from TOT.
Although some TOT rules, such as supplemental armor, are not included, overall the rules are clearly heavily derivative of TOT2 rather than being created from No Triumphant Procession.
AA1 comes with one full and one half-sized countersheet, consisting primarily of German counters. These include counters for the German Marines, which are basically just regular German counters with a semaphore symbol on them, Hungarian counters in German colors, and a variety of duplicates of existing German counters. The 5/8″ counters include the new guns and a bunch of duplicate German AFVs. As is typical for Critical Hit counters of this era, they are well-produced.
Unlike TOT2, AA1 does come with geoboards–of a sort. Included are 4 11″ x 16″ geoboards (C, D, E, F) of the style pioneered by Gary Fortenberry in several recent MMP-published Action Packs. AA1 thus includes the first third-party versions of such geoboards. However, the boards are not printed on heavy cardstock, like official geoboards are, but rather on flimsier thick paper/light cardstock. They have a glossy, reflective finish.
Though generally containing attractive graphics, they also contain the graphics flaw that has plagued most Critical Hit geoboards of recent vintage. With these flawed geoboards, building depictions that are not perfectly vertically or horizontally oriented appear pixelated and jagged on the boards, looking crude and ugly and spoiling the otherwise attractive appearance of such boards. Critical Hit has had more than a year to fix this problem but doesn’t seem to care about it at all, even though it makes their boards unattractive and crude-looking.
That is not the major problem with the geoboards, though. The major problem is that they are not cut to size. Though there is no white trim–the printing extends out to the edge of the boards–the printed image is actually larger than 11″ x 16,” thus “overflowing” the correct board image. Indeed, along the narrow ends, the board graphics even extend beyond the hexgrid. What this means, in practice, is that players will be forced to trim these boards with scissors or a rotary cutter or some-such in order to use them, Since Critical Hit is perfectly capable of providing properly trimmed boards (they have done it a number of times), this lack of effort is quite annoying, and those ASLers with little dexterity will find it most annoying of all. Theoretically, one could overlap the boards along their long sides, without having to trim those sides, but then something would have to be used to keep the boards flat. And, since the narrow sides have a hexgrid that doesn’t reach the edge of the board, this work-around would not work for boards lined up along the narrow edges. This is just sloppy.
Players should also note that the hexgrids are not properly sized. The AA rules provide a confusing reference to this:
“Based on feedback from an immersed ASLer (armed no doubt with micro measuring instruments to his credit) the hex-size used in the ACROSS THE ALLER boards is slightly larger than those used in past geo boards and all ‘legacy’ AH geo boards. While this may not seem important, since the ALLER boards are designed to be geomorphic with, and used with one another ONLY…the updated hex size will be used for all new modules released in September 2014 and going forward. What this means…while it may mean little to the reader. But if it is a meaningful change to you…then be advised that the boards ahead will not be perfectly sized with older (hard-mounted) geo boards…but are meant to size with newer (non hard-backed) boards…and will be presented to be geomorphic with one another.”
What this paragraph is actually referring to is the fact that, for some time now, Critical Hit has been using a hexgrid with its geoboards that is not properly sized for 8″ x 22″ geoboards (and now also 11″ x 16″ ones). While the hexgrid is the correct length along one axis, it is short along the other axis. In the case of AA1, that means that the 11″ side is basically correctly sized, but that the 16″ side is actually about 1/8″ of an inch too short (not “slightly larger” as suggested in the above paragraph, but actually slightly smaller). Though 1/8″ of an inch doesn’t sound like much, it means that these boards will not line up correctly against properly sized geoboards. In fact, the difference is extremely noticeable thanks to the fact that the error is along the long side of the geoboard (allowing the error to compound itself with each hex). What this means is that these boards will only be compatible with other similarly-flawed boards (scenario designers be warned).
It is not entirely clear from the somewhat incoherent text above whether Critical Hit is trying to say that they have fixed this problem going forward or that they are not going to fix the problem going forward.
In any case, the combination of no trimming, misprinted hexgrids, and crude building graphics make the boards rather less than inviting.
The boards are as follows:
- board C: a river board with a two-hex-wide river traversing the middle of the board lengthwise. The banks contain a mishmash of essentially rural terrain: buildings, orchards, fields, a couple of small hills, etc.
- board D: a somewhat cluttered rural board marked by orchards and grainfields.
- board E: half of the board is village terrain; the other half is rural and dominated by a winding stream.
- board F: a very open board with a few large fields and orchads. A railroad runs the length of the board.
Someone who picks up board F will immediately notice an oddity: the railroad that runs the length of the board runs along hexsides, not through the middle of the hex. However, the SSRs that refer to this board tell players to use the Chapter B Embankment railway rules–which are designed for railroads running through the center of hexes, not railroads running along hexsides.
The reason for this is yet more evidence of how derivative AA1 is of TOT2. TOT2 included a sheet of railroad overlays, referring players to the Red Barricades rules for how to handle them. Red Barricades introduced embanked railroads that ran along hexsides and essentially treated them like walls. This was long before the publication of Doomed Battalions, which introduced Chapter B railroad rules. Critical Hit seems to have forgotten this fact and mistakenly refers players to Chapter B rather than to Chapter O, where the correct rules can be found. This mistake could only have been made because Critical Hit was aping TOT2, not designing an original product.
AA1 comes with 10 scenarios. Each one is simply a modified version of a scenario originally published in Time on Target #2. For example, AA1-1 (Boy Warriors) is a modified version of TOT13 (Learning the Law of the Soldier). Both scenarios simulate an action that occurred near Stolzenau on April 6, 1945. In TOT13, the attacking British have 16 squads and 3 half-squads, 6 leaders, 14 SW of various types, and some 80mm OBA. In AA1-1, the attacking British have 13 squads and 3 half squads, 5 leaders, 11 SW, a carrier, and 80mm OBA. The defending Germans in TOT13 have 6 squads, a crew/gun, 3 leaders, 5 SW, and elsewhere, two crews/AA guns. In AA1-1, the defending Germans have 6.5 squad equivalents, 3 leaders (plus a hero), 4 SW, a crew gun, and elsewhere, 2 crews/AA guns. In other words, the two scenarios have amazingly similar OBs; the Critical Hit OB is simply slightly shrunken.
The boards are different, of course, and the VC are only somewhat similar, but the Critical Hit scenario is clearly not derived directly from No Triumphant Procession but rather directly from the TOT scenario.
Generally speaking, every scenario is like this. The scenarios of AA1 are for the most part simply derivative versions of the first 10 scenarios of TOT2. They typically have parallel OBs, slightly tweaked; simplified but similar SSRs; and similar but simplified VC. In some cases, Critical Hit did not even bother to change the scenario name. For example, TOT15 (The Steel-Eyed Boys) simply became AA1-3 (“Steel-Eyed Boys”).
|Across the Aller 1 Scenario||Equivalent Time on Target 2 Scenario|
|#1 Boy Warriors||TOT13 Learning the Law of the Soldier|
|#2 Final Thrusts||TOT14 Panzer-Teufel Strikes Back|
|#3 ‘Steel-Eyed Boys’||TOT15 The Steel-Eyed Boys|
|#4 Deadly Ambush||TOT Teaser B Marine Ambush|
|#5 Strassengabel Strongpoint||TOT16 The Strassengabel Strongpoint|
|#6 Between the Weser and the Aller||TOT17 Last Stand at Westen|
|#7 The Other Side of the Tracks||TOT18 The Aller Waltz|
|#8 Welch Return||TOT19 Liebe Elfriede|
|#9 Left Flank Failure||TOT 20 Threat to a Bridgehead|
|#10 Loss of the Seekapitän||TOT21 Tony–Take the Bridge–Out!|
No playtesting credits appear in the rules, so it is not clear how much these new versions of the scenarios have been playtested.
The original Time on Target 2 was a labor of love by Mark Neukom, Mike Reed, and other ASLers, who worked hard to make an original, and interesting ASL product. Across the Aller is nothing but a transparent attempt by Critical Hit to exploit that original work. Nobody who has a love for the ASL hobby should support such unethical behavior by purchasing such an exploitative product.